DAVID WAGNER admits that Huddersfield Town are suffering from a ‘fear factor’ at defending set-pieces and is urging his side to solve those mental issues to get their Championship play-off campaign back on track.
Town head into this evening’s televised Roses game with struggling visitors Wigan (7.45pm) in sixth place – with Birmingham City and Leeds United leapfrogging them in the table following weekend wins.
Victory for Wagner’s side tonight will see them return to fourth position as they seek to secure their second victory in seven league matches.
Wagner insists he is not panicking despite Town’s recent dip and is confident that if they can cure their recent deficiencies at set-pieces, they have every chance of replicating their outstanding form of early-season.
It is no surprise that much training-ground focus has centred on working on defending free-kicks and corners – an inability to do so which led to recent defeats at Cardiff, Fulham and Preston and dropped points at home to Birmingham.
The German head coach says the Town players need to change their mindset and eradicate what he perceives as fear when opposing sides are afforded set-piece opportunities.
Wagner said: “We have to be honest with ourselves and, at the moment, we struggle in defending set-pieces.
“It is a mental thing we have to find a solution for, rather than a thing where we make some tactical mistake.
“We have to make sure that everybody is not feeling fear if we concede a corner.
“We went to Newcastle and saw the chance to get a result and we didn’t have the fear that we would maybe lose this game.
“This togetherness, confidence and trust we have in open play is something we have to show in set-plays as well.
“We have a great opportunity to make it better on Monday. You can only grow, feel confident and grow in your self-belief if you can give something back and it is very important for us to play a game with a clean sheet or without conceding a goal from set-pieces.”
Despite pinpointing a clear weakness in Town’s recent form, Wagner has reassured supporters that there is no need to panic.
That belief is fortified by his side’s recent offensive performances, which he feels remain strong.
A benign looking run of fixtures which sees Huddersfield face the struggling trio of Wigan, Blackburn and Burton along with a faltering Bristol City also provides some encouragement.
Town fans will also recall how the likes of Burnley, Middlesbrough, Brighton and Hull City all toiled for spells last season before turning their form around.
Wagner said: “Our open play is so strong and gives us so much togetherness, confidence and self-believe that I am totally relaxed.
“If I was manager of a team with less of this and when they had the ball, everyone was looking at the ground and nobody was wanting to play, then we would struggle and have a big, big problem.
“This is what we don’t have. We have had two poor games at Preston and Fulham. But in every other game, we played more or less with a very strong identity.
“I know the run of one win in six and know why. We have worked on it on the grass a lot and it is also a mental thing you have to change in your mind.
“You have to see that change rather than the fear. We need to bring our identity on Monday night.”
Wagner has stressed that Nahki Wells’s mindset remains positive despite fresh rumours linking him with a January move away from Town.
The Bermuda striker, who rejected a contract extension in the summer, has netted just three times this term but Wagner does not detect any issues.
Wagner added: “He has looked positive and focused in the past games. Of course, with these rumours and speculation, he has to handle it. But we like to give him every support he needs as we did in the summer and pre-season as well. It is no problem for me. I said this in the summer and he is still here.”
Last six games: Huddersfield LLWLDL; Wigan DDLWLD.
Referee: T Harrington (Cleveland).
Last time: Huddersfield 0 Wigan 0, September 16, 2014; Championship.